Well, Spring is finally here and a perfect time to get out and do some camping and hiking and enjoy all the wonders of nature, including all the incredible health and well being benefits nature offers. Earth, oceans, rivers, mountains and trees! Silent canyons, babbling creeks and open meadows and wild flowers as far as you can see! Yes, Spring has sprung!(1)
If you’re Camping In the Outdoors, you’ve probably noticed that you feel happier out there than inside. You can unwind, disconnecting from technology, resetting your circadian rhythms by rising early and eating before dark, and eating real food, mostly fresh-caught fish you’ll catch, raw fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, and falling asleep not long after it gets dark. There are endless reasons why people choose to spend their weekends sleeping on the cold hard floor of the forest.
Mostly it’s for the love of adventure and to be connected with the beauty of nature, but it’s often an escape from the business and stress of urban living. Our prehistoric ancestors lived as nomadic campers and so we are hardwired to drift back to our innate habits. It’s really not surprising that we crave time in the fresh air away from it all, and the evidence clearly suggest that more and more people are doing it. According to KOA, the rising popularity of camping today is mainly due to the increased number of Millennial and Gen Xe rs who are making it a regular part of their lives. In fact, 48% of the campers surveyed were camping without kids.
One of the most brilliant individuals in the history of mankind, Albert Einstein, who simply enjoyed sailing and being out in nature and the open waters, hours on end, said this about nature:
Look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better
. In fact, there’s historical evidence Einstein developed his concepts and the theory on relativity sailing, while sitting in his sailboat quietly relaxing.
Why are we so drawn to nature? No one knows for sure; but one hypothesis derived from evolutionary biologist E. O. Wilson’s Biophilia Hypothesis suggests that there’s are evolutionary reasons people seek out nature experiences. Wikipedia describes biophilia as,
The biophilia hypothesis suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems
We may have preferences to be in beautiful, natural spaces because they are resource-rich environments, ones that provide optimal food, shelter, and comfort. These evolutionary needs may explain why children are drawn to natural environments and why we prefer nature to be even a part of our architecture.
Numerous studies have shown that being in nature, living near nature, or even viewing nature in paintings and videos can have positive impacts on our brains, bodies, feelings, thought processes, and social interactions. In particular, simply viewing nature seems to be awe-inspiring and inherently rewarding, producing a cascade of position emotions and calming our nervous systems, and not only making us happier, but healthier, too. National Geographics calls it “A call to the wild”. These experiences in turn help us to cultivate greater openness, creativity, connection, generosity, resilience, and even our social well being.
Fresh Natural Air
Trees use photosynthesis to turn carbon dioxide into the oxygen we need to breathe. In just one year, the presence of trees saved 850 lives and prevented 670,000 cases of acute respiratory symptoms, according to the latest research published in the journal Environmental Pollution. Trees remove pollution from the air, allowing for purer oxygen, making it healthier for us to take into our lungs. Access to fresh air keeps our circulatory systems healthy, which is important for both our mental and physical health.
Urban air is increasingly full of pollutants, and the situation is getting worse. According to the research, the fresh air created by trees is especially beneficial to those living in urban areas, where the air is more heavily polluted.
In the early 80s, the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries even coined a term for it: shinrin-yoku. It means taking in the forest atmosphere or “forest bathing,” and the ministry encourages people to visit forests to relieve stress and improve health. It demands that one fully surrender to nature, and while there’s, to meditate on the songs of birds and rustling trees. The NIH endorsed the concept of nature therapy or forest bathing in this study, but also called for more research.
A Journal Of Environmental Psychology study showed the vitalizing effects of breathing fresh air:
Being outdoors such as when you’re camping, was associated with greater vitality, a relation that was mediated by the presence of natural elements.
And it’s not only the trees. Did you know, the old saying…”you should stop and smell the roses”, has more truth in it than you could imagine? According to a National Institute Of Health study (NIH), the smell of roses has a relaxing and calming effect on humans. Even a fresh rain or a quick shower has an inviting aroma, doesn’t it? The smell is a result of ozone, plant spores, and oils secreted from plants. Some scientists believe that people inherited their affection for the scent of rain from ancestors who relied on rainy weather for their survival.
Phytoncide is a substance emitted by plants & trees and generally means the aroma of the forest. “Phyton” means “plant” in Latin, and “cide” means to exterminate. Phytoncides are produced to help plants & trees protect themselves from harmful insects, mold, and germs. Phytoncides do not only exist in forests. They can be found in vegetables and fruit as well, like in your garden.
After the constituents of phytoncides were identified, experiments were conducted to see how they benefit human health. Studies like this NIH research on nature therapy, have further investigated phytonicides in laboratory settings and confirmed that they can increase anti-cancer proteins and enhance natural killer cell activity. Reviewed by the NIH another study from Department of Biotechnology and Chemistry, Faculty of Engineering, Kinki University, in Japan concluded
“In this research, phytoncide solution derived from a combination of 118 kinds of plants was assessed in terms of its antioxidant potential, sterilization, odor-eliminating and stress-reducing properties. Clearly, the bio activity of phytoncide solution, including its terpenoid components, is related to these effects.
Camping In the Outdoors, backpacking, and fresh air has been shown to help digest food more effectively, improve blood pressure and heart rate, and strengthen the immune system, and just make you happy, leading to a healthier you. Don’t you want to be happy?
Natural Light and Sunlight
While we know intuitively that natural light of a sunny day can improve our mood, most of us don’t realize how important natural sunlight can be for our mental well being. We all know the importance of natural sunlight as far as maintaining our bodily requirement for Vitamin D, but, sunlight is also essential for our brain functions and our emotions. Exposure to sunlight increases the brain’s levels of serotonin, whereas a lack of sunlight causes an increase of melatonin, which makes you sleepy.
Have you ever noticed on a dreary, rainy, cloudy-day you are more sleepy and tired? The NIH released a study recommending one way to increase serotonin levels is to venture outside in natural light. A healthy balance of serotonin and melatonin is vital to our bodies’ health, because they regulate our stress levels and moods. Conditions such anxiety, depression, mood swings, bipolar disorders, and seasonal effective disorder (SAD) can occur.
Natural light also controls our circadian rhythms, our ‘body-clock’, which dictate our sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, body temperature, and other important bodily functions. Our circadian rhythms not only keep our sleep cycles regular, but they help to balance our hormones too. Light therapy is a way to treat seasonal effective disorder (SAD) and certain other conditions by exposure to artificial light.
SAD is a type of depression that occurs at a certain time each year, usually in the fall or winter. Light therapy is thought to affect brain chemicals linked to mood and sleep, easing SAD symptoms. When hormones are out of balance there’s are a number of health issues that can develop such as anxiety and the other mental health issues already mentioned, in addition, there’s sleep disorders, irritability, poor memory, exhaustion, and poor concentration.
Dr. Susanne Preston, a clinical counselor at South University in Virginia Beach says being outside and spending time in nature is good for a person’s mental health, as it allows them to de-stress.
The fresh air and sunlight have the largest benefits,
For example, with increased exposure to natural sunlight, incidents of seasonal effective disorder decrease. When individuals are exposed to natural sunlight, the vitamin D in their skin helps to elevate their moods.
Research has shown that spending time in nature has been associated with decreased levels of mental illness, with the strongest links to reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, in addition to increased self esteem.
Physical Activity and Exercise
When most people think of exercise, they typically think of hitting the indoor gym. While that may seem like the only practical option during the cold, snowy winter months, or during the blistering heat of summer, there’s is overwhelming evidence that exercising outdoors, otherwise referred to as green exercise, is better for you, both physically and mentally.
This idea isn’t new, in fact, the healing power of nature from the Latin phrase: “vis medicatrix naturae“, is one of the guiding principles of Hippocratic medicine and evolutionary biology and viewed as an essential factor in maintaining and restoring one’s health, especially when getting physical activity.
Movement outdoors is intrinsically tied to our humanity. For 99% of human history, not only have we lived off the land and sought nature for basic survival and health, but also for pleasure and physical activity too. By returning to that “hunter-gatherer” type physical activity experienced of our forefathers in nature, or “green spaces”, we can avoid unhealthy issues such as a weakened immune system, overweight or obesity, hormone imbalance causing anxiety and depression, lack of strength and stamina, and of course, vitamin D deficiency.
Exercising out in nature among the trees, fresh air, and birds is much healthier than indoor exercise. For example, research highlights, like this Mayo Clinic study, that an average of 30 minutes spent in nature leads to increased physical activity and lower prevalence of high blood pressure and depression. Or, according to studies, exercising outdoors burns more calories than the same amount of the same exercise indoors, helping you more efficiently to maintain a healthy weight.
Here’s one more study on healthy happy hormones. Queensland government Of Australia, found that those who exercised outdoors on a regular basis had higher levels of serotonin, a hormone that regulates mood, than those who workout mainly indoors. They also had higher levels of endorphins, the post-exercise rush that occurs after exercise when exercising outside, especially in green environments.
Then there’s’s the monotonous and boring activity of indoor exercise such as walking on a treadmill, or walking inside of a mall like older adults do. Numerous studies have shown that during self-paced walking outdoors, negotiating trails, crossing streams, or climbing hills, individuals walk faster and work harder and are more challenged, but report lower perceived exertion compared to indoors treadmill-based walking, particularly in older people. One NIH study had this to say about older adults getting exercise out in nature were more stimulated and had more fun:
An overground walking program appears to offer some advantages over a treadmill walking program in older adults.
Cooking and Eating In the Great Outdoors
Studies suggest that eating outside and cooking at the campsite actually makes food taste better, particularly if you obtained the food yourself, such freshly-caught fish from a stream or lake nearby! And it really does, doesn’t it? The fresh air and peacefulness lowers your stress hormones, particularly cortisol, and blood pressure, so you’re more relaxed and even focused.
When you’re stressed, you’re not paying attention to what you’re eating and don’t enjoy it as much. Plus, being outside is a natural mood booster. Cooking on an open fire or on a makeshift grill on an open fire, you consume less fat because the excess drips to the ground, while cooked vegetables and meats retain more vitamins and minerals.
This makes meat in particular much leaner and will reduce the number of calories you consume. And, what about the flavor and delicious smell of a deer roast cooked in a cast iron Dutch oven on coals of an open fire, like in this video? (2) Just thinking about it, makes me hungry! Out in nature you have a much better view and can feel free to relax, stretch out, and let your eyes wander deeper into your the incredible natural scene in front of you. Unwind and relax with a view that awe-inspiring and you’ll love, while you enjoy a quiet and healthy evening meal.
If you planned and packed smartly for your camping trip, you will have an ample supply of fresh, healthy and nutritious foods stored in our Yetti cooler on ice for cooking. Possibilities should include fresh lean organic grass-fed-finished steaks or other meats for cooking on the open grill, and, just to be safe, some wild-caught sockeye salmon steaks.
You’ll have some salmon to cook in case you get skunked catching fresh fish. Also include some organic cage-free brown eggs and whole-grain cereals for breakfast, fresh organic fruits and vegetables from your own backyard garden, or you bought from a specialty market, and fresh organic nuts and seeds for snacks. Oh, and don’t forget your travel container of blueberry Maca smoothies. Wine and brandy is a good addition too.
Do you know what is the most important health benefit of eating foods outdoors? You cook it yourself. People who frequently cook meals at home or out in nature, or on a party boat, or wherever, not only enjoy their food more, but also eat healthier and consume fewer calories than those who cook less, according to new Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research.
When people cook most of their meals at home, or else where, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all, even if they are not trying to lose weight,
says Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future and lead author of the study.
Another study completed at the University of Washington School Of Public Health, and reviewed by ScienceDirect, confirmed cooking at home or in other locations, was not only healthier but also much cheaper. Guess where we’re going right now? Yes, you guessed it….going to pack our yeti cooler with some wonderful, healthy, nutrient-dense foods for our weekend camping trip. We’d like you to join us and enjoy some Camping In the Outdoors. What are your thoughts and comments?
There’s more health benefits associated with outdoor camping that we’ll cover in the next article.
Update: Had to add this….My better half and I were out on our rear deck enjoying a morning coffee and we both witnessed a pair of mating robins make trip after trip after trip, for the 20 minutes we were out there, pulling dried grass up in their beaks and taking it to a near by tree where they were building a nest. Incredible! “Stop and smell the roses”, and if you’re not into camping, at least get out in your backyard. Your health and well being depends on it!
(2) Bill Gaudy